A group of archaeologists from Griffith University has discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest known cave painting dating back 45,500 years. The cave art was found in South Sulawesi during field research being conducted with a leading Indonesian archaeology research center called Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS). The cave painting is a figurative depiction of a Sulawesi warty pig, a creature common on the Indonesian island.
The pig painting was discovered in a limestone cave in Leang Tedongnge. It is considered to be the earliest known representational work of art in the world. The cave is located in a valley enclosed by steep limestone cliffs and is only accessible by a narrow passage during the dry season. The floor of the valley is completely flooded during the wet season.
An isolated Bugis community lives in the Hidden Valley who say Westerners have never visited the valley. The pig painting was dated to at least 45,500 years ago and is part of a rock art panel located above a high ledge along the cave’s rear wall. Researchers describe the painting as a pig with a short crest of upright hairs and a pair of horn-like facial warts in front of the eyes, all characteristic features of adult male Sulawesi pigs.
The painting was made using red ocher pigment, and the painting shows the pig observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs. Researchers say that humans have hunted the warty pigs for tens of thousands of years, and they are the most commonly portrayed animal in the Ice Age rock art of the island.
Researchers point out that dating rock art is very challenging. However, rock art produced in limestone caves can be dated using uranium-series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits that form naturally on the cave wall surface where the art is painted. It was that mineral deposit that allowed the team to date the cave art 45,500 years old. The mineral deposit formed on the art’s surface, indicating the art was painted before the deposit formed. The previous oldest rock art was dated to 43,900 years old.